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Friday, April 11, 2014

Sick week, great stuff.

I am damn exhausted. I've spent the last two weeks being sick as a dog. Some kind of flu. Finally starting to clear up but man has been hard to keep my eyes on a screen. What's worse, even miracle programmer programmer, despite being some thousands of miles away, managed to get sick too!

They say people always get sick when the weather changes. Each year I am more and more inclined to believe them.

That being said, this post is gonna be pretty short, and, to be frank, I'm pretty much only doing it out of necessity. I've read a bunch of times that leaving a blog more than a week without a post is a kiss of death for it showing up on search engines. Unfortunately that sometimes happens here, but that's just life. We're a busy trio, managing jobs, families, and Sprout's Tale. It's tough going.

We've started testing and are moving into our second, slightly slightly slightly less exclusive round this week. Even though we already know of several problems that need to be fixed, it's safe to say there are still several more. For example, magic vines grow on nothing! Oopsy!

The moving platforms can still get a bit wonky, too. 

Maybe if we add a little squish sound effect, we can just pretend he's in the mud?

Lastly, there's a problem with the tree colliders. We can't use a mesh collider and specific shape colliders don't really match the shape of the tree so I'm kind of at a loss about what to do. I've been secretly scratching my head over it for a long time. If any of you Unity folk  have any ideas about how to fix what you see below, please chime in!

Some more interesting news: Some of you may remember this picture: 

This was one of Sprout Tale's original concept pictures (done, like everything else, by the ruggedly handsome Murilo Kleine). Well, Murilo's been working recently to make at least a part of that come back into the picture:

Once textured, I think this will help add in some sense of mystery about what the heck a boat is doing broken down at the top of a mountain!

Murilo's also been toying around with lighting in the scene to make sure we get exactly what we are looking for. You can also see lots of little items around the houses to help feed our player's eyes.

Unfortunately, the demo we are currently testing will not be using this beautiful stuff, but the demo we're going to use to actually promote the game most definitely WILL!

Oh, I guess I said this was going to be short. I'm a big fat liar. Sorry!

Stay tuned. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

On Deadlines

Okay, this is a hard one to write because it means accepting defeat and admitting to mistakes.

So, let's get that tough part over with right away: I promised a playable demo a week ago, and I didn't deliver it. The truth was that I had the level pretty much all ready to go and looking very playable, and apart from some minor jumping issues, I was happy with it. And more importantly, I so desperately wanted to move forward.

So, drunk with desperation, I announced to the few followers paying attention that, come hell or high-water, I was going to give something to them to play.

The Monday came and went without a peep. On Tuesday I managed to muster up the character to admit to needing more time, and the following Monday (today) I give you this.

So what's going on? Well, a few things: First, my intoxication (metaphorical, not literal!) period is over, and I'm back to seeing things realistically. The truth is that calling something finished just because you're ready for it to be doesn't make it so. Our little game was missing it's GUI, had some bad framerate problems, was getting some menacing exceptions from the enemy behavior, and there were some sound effects and animations missing. Pathetic!

Maybe I could have still given the thing out, unfinished, to a select few, but it would have just felt wrong. So here I stand, er, sit, hat in hand, begging your forgiveness. I'm afraid we still need more time.

But it'll be worth it! Murilo, as usual, has been hard to work on making the level more professional. This is the truth thing that I think we are waiting for and it is really going to make all the difference. Have a look at a preview render of the scene:

Versus the original:

It's a huge difference.

We've also since added the GUI in and a push animation, which you can see here:

Lower left is a death counter, we're missing the animation. The box is a placeholder, too, it'll be replaced with a kind of totem. Also you can see I need to fix the particle on the box so that it changes direction and side depending on the motion of the box! ALSO the pink water is just a placeholder!

Anyway, so the point is, lots and lots to do, but we're really close, I promise, and those select few of you who we trust and love will have first dibs on telling us all the things we did wrong!

Til next time, don't forget to Tweet Share +1 Like Follow etc etc etc.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Enemies In (Again)

It was tough getting here. We started with little balls of color to represent enemies. Remember that? Things were much simpler then. He could walk back and forth, jump over objects, and even kill the player and be killed by the player! Woo!

Also, he was very very scary.
We moved on from there, but very slowly. Our enemy model wasn't ready for months after, and Murilo probably tore out a lot of hair trying to get the animations into the state of perfection at which they ended. 

Moving way too fast in this gif, for some reason. 

But we couldn't really use it yet. Not properly anyway. I took some Unity shortcuts that would allow us to at least imagine the model was being used properly, though. Using the walk animation as the idle, I was able to slap the new enemy model over the old balls and let em loose. Still, it meant no galloping and, even worse, no turning around. Which gave us very ridiculous moments like this one:

This enemy is the King of Pop.
Things got worse before they got better. Pretty soon, a weird bug had arisen that turned all of our enemies on their sides! Or, in the case of these guys, on their butts. I wrote lightheartedly about it here, but this was actually a pretty devastating development. I knew when it occurred that, on top of just generally being a huge headache, it would also mean having to redo all of the enemy paths, jumps, and placements throughout all of the finished levels. Ouch.

The solution, of course, turned out to be something fairly simple, but the entire event underlined some general problems with the enemy itself. Luckily, Mihai is just about the hardest worker on Earth, and he set himself to the task of properly rectifying things. There were some missteps and some disappointments along the way, but in what turned out to be no time at all, things were once again as they should be. 

The sounds of the enemy can help to make moments like this one incredibly tense.
Now the enemy's are slowly being put back into the level, and with them the moving platforms and flying enemy's that experienced a lot of the same issues.

 The goal now is to have the demo ready by the end of the week- Sunday night. After that, we'll be begging a few very very generous people to help us test the sucker out by looking for bugs and hopefully telling us what works and what doesn't. If you're a constant reader here, you'll have heard me say this (or something like it) a thousand times already- it's hard to see things clearly when you're really really close to them. To my mind, it's one of game design's biggest challenge. 

Also, random shoutout, but I'd like to get the word out about an indie game that's been in demo stage for a long long time now- Life Goes On. The trailer is seriously magical. 

Also, as always, don't forget to RT FOLLOW LIKE SHARE +1 AND KISS US.

Thanks as always!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


The title about sums up the last two weeks nicely. Chaos, that's what it feels like. We've been trying to really make a push to get a playable and pretty test out into people's hands, but everytime I think we're wrapping up we run into a brand new set of problems. It's starting to take its toll.

Last week I came down with some kind of bug that made it basically impossible to sit down at my computer and focus for long enough to do any complex problem solving (or even write a proper news post). But I'm back at it now and feeling mostly recovered, so let's see how this goes.

Since some time last week, we've been trying to deal with some major enemy issues. Namely, they've all decided to spin around and start walking on their butts. If I thought it was bad when they were just moonwalking, this is positively awful. What's worse, I actually had an idea what was causing the moonwalking. This is just baffling.

"walking" on its butt
So at some point, the rig just up and decided it's going to be a human, which sent the bones flying all over the place. But since I'm so inexperienced with this situation/function in Unity, I'm not sure how to fix it. As I write this, Murilo and Mihai and I are in a "meeting" (a group Gchat where we occasionally switch to hangouts for screensharing) to try to figure out what's happening. Due to the three of us being in wildly different timezones, these meetings can be a tricky thing to schedule, but they can be very useful. 

This shows *something* like what the enemy's should
look like.
Also this week, I worked on updating the tree to a larger size. I'm not sure how I didn't notice it before, but it looked incredibly dweeby before being only barely twice the size of the protagonist. Now It's got a much greater height. With the expansion of the tree, however, I also had to make the entire level a bit larger, which made me pretty nervous. 

But! After some testing, I found that I really really much preferred this more opening, fast moving environment to the contained obstacles of the more compact level. I think this comes back to the problem of being too close to the work, not being able to see when something is bothering you.

the BG is NOT permanent!
We're pretty close to finished. I've got a couple of things still making me nervous at this stage, mainly about the level length. I can beat this sucker in ten minutes now, easy. That's not a good thing. But what about first timers? I'm tempted to add in the wind level, which is shaping up pretty nicely, but I'd like to avoid doing that for a demo. Not good to give em everything all at once, ya know?

Not that it would be everything, not at all, but maybe too much.


Also, don't forget to help us spread the word! We're so close to going to true public! So close!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Only Good Bug is a Fixed Bug

This week's been mostly about finding and squashing bugs, of which there are plenty. Luckily for us, Mihai has got a pretty big boot with a hard sole.

Metaphor's aside, he's been doing fantastic work at quickly finding ways to deal with the weird stuff that tends to crop up in the game, as well as giving time to making a couple of adjustments to other issues. Meanwhile, Murilo continues to slog away at getting those animations ready for use.

Here's the main bugs we've been working on this week:
  • Enemy's. Just about everything about them needs to be tweaked, but nothing more so than their ridiculous, moonwalking, badly aligned, floating appearance. 
  • Not exactly a bug, but the jumping needs to be a little more forgiving. Mihai's added some code that will allow the player to jump just a fraction of a second after Sprout's feet have left the platform.
  • Respawn. Currently, as the player dies on a layer other than the one where he spawned, he respawns on the layer of death. Usually, there is no platform there, which means he will die forever by continuously fallingspawningfallingspawningfallingspawning
There's others, but we'll focus on talking about them. As for enemy's you can see most of the problems with them (there are many) in this video: 

The preview image there shows some pretty offensive floating. This is occurring for several reasons, none of which have anything to do with Mihai's work. The biggest problem is trying to get a collision box that fits the enemy shape and cooperates with movement. The second problem is that we haven't quite got the animations and model perfected for use, yet, though we are close. 

The jumping issue is kind of impossible to show an example of. Basically, I decided early on that if I ever find myself testing the game and getting frustrated, then I need to undo or fix whatever the cause of the frustration is. Sometimes it's okay, but rarely, and only when it is completely by design. Falling into pits that should be easy to jump over is not a fun experience. I also read on this article that forgiving jumps are practically expected.

Mihai's put some seriously brainscratching work into this issue and managed to come up with a system that does exactly what we were hoping for. No more yelling at my computer screen!

The respawn bug is pretty much already fixed, though its possible that some new and somewhat related issues have reared their ugly heads. I need to do some more testing to be sure, and also to make sure I know exactly what was done to cause the issue.

Also this week, I've been experimenting with the Unity terrain feature to try and temporarily fill in the background, because it's just far too clumsy and unimpressive looking with nothing. After Murilo's finished up the animations work, he'll be able to move on to what is essentially the demo's final aesthetic need: going over the level and making it pretty the way only someone like he can do.

Also added some final jump puzzles to end of the level so the thing is technically playable now.

cover up

In the above, I show you that it's way easier to cover up imperfections with the lights off! Woo! As for that box, that's gonna be redone into something magical-looking, too. Just you wait!

Til next time!

Don't forget to +1 and Like and Follow and Watch and tell your friends! We need your support!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Little Problems, Big Vines, New Paths

Last week's post did pretty well on reddit's gamedev. The game got some nice attention and some much-needed praise, despite my lack of a plug in the OP. Thanks to all you who searched it out and left your encouraging words.

With that said, the days following that post brought me into exactly the kind of situation I described. I got stuck in a couple of places. There were two key issues I could see happening and they were both causing some major problems for me personally and for the game at large.

  • The vines looked ugly. Very ugly.
  • Something in the middle of the level felt off and uninteresting
We'll talk about the vines second, since that problem's resolution is a lot more tangible. 

This is supposed to be the second level of the game, which means it should still be pretty easy and relatively straightforward. But the lack of choices in the level were bothering me. Having just played Duck Tales on Xbox, I could see that putting pathway choices in a sidescroller can be stressful to the player, but it also adds a larger sense of mystery, responsibility, and tension (what if I should have gone the other way!) to a level.

So I pulled out a wall and added some stairs and a bridge. I also moved an enemy over this new area so that the player would have a much more simple meeting with the enemy on his first encounter. But then, not being able to kill an enemy feels frustrating, so I've got to add some clouds so we can rain happy thoughts down onto the evil devil-dog. The level feels better right now, but the empty backgrounds are still bothering me. These will be fixed after the gameplay is ready to go. 

But now we have a new problem. The enemy is having trouble on sharp angles. His sphere collider is getting stuck on things and the enemy itself is sliding away from it, giving him the appearance of floating over land. This is a huge problem and one I can't get my head around just yet. I'm going to wake up tomorrow and make this my main goal so I can go into it with a completely fresh head.

As for the vines, I've got some neat little gifs to show as a way of taking you along the path. We started with the vines coded and using a simple grass texture as a placeholder. It looked "not-beautiful" to say the least:

Murilo then remade the vines using a 3D model and textured that. This will allow him to easily make many variations of the vine growth path by rotating the camera and rerendering. The vine's growth path is decided using a gradient texture rigged with a special shader done by Mihai. I then took Murilo's new vine and set it into the game, only to find that something felt off. It grew too fast and wasn't quite magical.

So I knew we needed to slow it down and that we needed to add some magic- aka particle effects. Unfortunately, the latter is pretty low down on our list, but Mihai did add a nice Growth Rate variable that I could easily change to experiment with speeds. So I cut the speed in half and...

Okay, better, but not perfect. I showed this to Murilo and he pointed out that the leaves on the vines are way too big. That would be my fault- some improper, sloppy scaling. So I narrowed the plane appropriately and...

Looks a lot better. You can also see that I fixed that little enemy on the right so that he moves again and I moved the background around so that the vines' growth fits with the environment. Low priority stuff at the time, but didn't take long. 

The vines still aren't completely perfect, and we still need a way to make the look more magical (as Kevin Kitlesa suggested on Twitter,, having the ground break apart when things grow might be a good way to add some life to the animation), but that's some time away. For now, I'm happy with how it looks.

Next up, we'll be adding some new animations to the game: pushing objects, a proper idle animation (so he no longer grabs his hat over and over and over), run against wind, sprint, and others.

Stay tuned. Also, as always, please don't forget to help spread the word by clicking Life or +1 or Follow or Watch or whatever one you like the most! We need your support!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Ups and Downs- Dealing with the emotional toll

Made with super-valuable MSPaint skills.
I'll start by boldly declaring that I am currently experiencing an "Up." I'll follow that by not-so-boldly knocking on the wood-top of my desk.

I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in my perception of this process as being ahem emotionally turbulent. My sixth-month project is now entering is 18th month (that's one year and six months for all you baby-haters), and I want to take a minute to post what it's been like in case it helps any of you who might be currently experiencing a "Down".

And the lows get low. It starts with a problem. Something comes up that I can't solve. And I stare at it for hours wondering why this isn't right. It might be something technical (why isn't the enemy following over the obstacles?!) or it might be something intangible (why isn't this fun?). 

An impressive moonwalk, sure, but not exactly what we're looking for from a scary enemy.

But whatever it was, it starts to eat and by the following day I've woken up with a feeling of dread. Some days I'm unable to even work up the courage to start up the project which causes me to feel even worse the following day, knowing I got nothing done. And then the thoughts like this come:

  • "I'm worthless, why would I even attempt something like this. Of course I can't do it."
  • "This game isn't working. There's nothing I can do to fix it because I'm not smart enough to fix a broken toilet flusher."
  • "Everyone will be disappointed. Why did I even tell anyone?"
But it's fleeting. Well, kind of. It's less 'fleeting' and more 'goes away slowly and after a little while things seem a lot better'.

And if anyone is like me and has had to deal with this, I'll say, keep on keepin on. Do that work even when it pains you. Write down on paper and see what's wrong. Talk about it to people you trust, especially if they don't want to give you advice. Sometimes you just need a sounding board. Try different ways of tackling the same problem.

In writing, they say "kill your darlings." I'd say that's good advice for game design. If something isn't working, or is slowing the game down, kill it. My game's gone through some pretty masssssive changes since its inception, mostly for this reason. I was attached to things that worked only in theory.

18 months later (I won't reformat that number a second time, you baby-haters) and I really have to say that I have fun even just testing the freaking thing. I don't think it's going to blow the world up or be Braid or Limbo or anything like that, but I can say I'm damn, damn proud of what it's shaping up to be. One way or another, when it gets into people hands, I can say, "This is the game I wanted it to be because I wouldn't accept it when it wasn't."

Finally getting the sense of bringing the world back to life.